(p. C3) Thomas Edison famously said that genius requires “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Edison’s third criterion for would-be innovators is less well-known but perhaps even more vital: “a logical mind that sees analogies.”
. . .
The art of analogy flows from creative re-categorization and the information that we extract from surprising sources. Take the invention of the moving assembly line. Credit for this breakthrough typically goes to Henry Ford, but it was actually the brainchild of a young Ford mechanic named Bill Klann. After watching butchers at a meatpacking plant disassemble carcasses moving past them along an overhead trolley, Klann thought that auto workers could assemble cars through a similar process by adding pieces to a chassis moving along rails.
Overcoming significant management skepticism, Klann and his cohorts built a moving assembly line. Within four months, Ford’s line had cut the time it took to build a Model T from 12 hours per vehicle to just 90 minutes. In short order, the moving assembly line revolutionized manufacturing and unlocked trillions of dollars in economic potential. And while in retrospect this innovation may seem like a simple, obvious step forward, it wasn’t; the underlying analogy between moving disassembly and moving assembly had eluded everyone until Klann grasped its potential.
For the full essay, see:
JOHN POLLACK. “Four Ways to Innovate through Analogies; Many of history’s most important breakthroughs were made by seeing analogies–for example, how a plane is like a bike.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 8, 2014): C3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the essay has the date Nov. 7, 2014, and has the title “Four Ways to Innovate through Analogies; Many of history’s most important breakthroughs were made by seeing analogies–for example, how a plane is like a bike.”)
The passages quoted above are related to Pollack’s book:
Pollack, John. Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas. New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2014.